Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Winterlicious Round-Up, Part I - Mark McEwan, Meet Mark McEwan

It’s that time of year again! The ever popular annual Winterlicious event in Toronto is now in its seventh year, and the first thing everyone noticed was the hike in prices. A three-course prix fixe menu has now risen to $45 at some of the top-notch establishments. Granted, the hike in price is a bit understandable: the economy is down, and food prices have hiked up considerably in the past year. I don’t mind paying an extra $10, as long as it’s worth the money.

This time around, I made reservations at four establishments. Two have already been tried and tested this week, while the other two are slated for next week. Coincidentally (and I didn’t realise I did it until afterwards), I made back-to-back reservations with both of Mark McEwan’s establishments: Bymark for lunch, and North 44° for dinner.

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Bymark, located in the concourse level of Toronto Dominion Centre, is the second brain-child of McEwan’s. He opened it in 2002, and I’ve heard many things about the place ever since, both good and bad. For one thing, it got a lot of buzz a few years back after introducing the most expensive burger in Toronto on the menu (the current one on the menu has truffles, although I think they also used to do one with foie gras, if I’m not mistaken). Having enjoyed my Summerlicious experience at North 44° three years ago, and curious about all the talk around Bymark, I knew that it was a place I had to try out this time around.

Despite being stuck in the basement of a large office tower, perhaps one of the most unsexiest places to be, Bymark’s atmosphere is quite nice, with dark panelling playing off with the neutral tables and chairs. The lighting and candles add warmth to what might otherwise be a cold and bland room.

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The citrus zest in the tuna tartar was an especially nice touch, helping to draw out the flavours, but there was definitely no zing to the “spicy” tomato and avocado salsa as promised, nor did the plantain chips do much for me. The chicken kebab was delicious though, beautifully seasoned with perfectly grilled naan (oh, how I’m a sucker for naan!). The minted yogurt was topped with a bit of chilli oil, which I loved. The couscous was a bit bland though. And my parents’ fish, while seasoned really nicely, was overcooked (noooo!). The carrot cake for dessert—now that was a nice ending to a meal. Although I would have liked it a bit warmer, the cake was moist and not too sweet. The slight tartness in the pineapple ice cream complimented the cake, and the pecan praline added some lovely texture.

I then had dinner at McEwan’s other establishment, North 44°, for dinner tonight. I’ve been to North 44° once before, almost three years ago for the Summerlicious event. I remembered it was great, but it had been some time since I had last been to North 44°, and I also thought it would be a great place to take my parents. And it certainly did not disappoint!

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While North 44° doesn’t have much natural light as well (what’s with that anyway?), it definitely had a more intimate atmosphere. But it’s really the food that deserves the most praise (and aren’t we here to enjoy the food?). Everything was perfectly cooked. My mom’s pork belly confit was melt-in-your-mouth, as well as the braised short ribs. My salmon was just cooked through. And I absolutely loved the black forest génoise cake. The chocolate génoise was so light and moist, and the kirsch cream on top was to die for; it tasted unbelievable with the chocolate cake.

So the winner between McEwan and McEwan? North 44°, hands down. It had a better atmosphere, and more importantly, better prepared food. I’m not saying Bymark was terrible; the food was decent, but I thought each dish was lacking a little something. Personally, I think Bymark is a bit overrated, at least from the impression I got. Let’s just hope it was an off day, but I know I’ll be returning to North 44° much sooner than I would Bymark. (And on a side note, my parents and I think North 44° is even better than Canoe!)

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Full Winterlicious menu for Bymark and North 44°.

You can check out more of my Winterlicious photos here.


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